By David M. Fortier
I am still amazed at the impact SB Tactical’s Pistol Stabilizing Brace has made on the firearms industry and AR pistols in particular. Before the coming of the Pistol Stabilizing Brace, AR pistols were a very small part of the market. In the previous “Dark Ages” AR pistols were often looked upon as an oddity with little practical purpose. There were some though who, after carefully evaluating the possibilities, came to the conclusion they could serve a useful purpose. I can remember quite a few years ago speaking with Richard Heinie about this, and how impressed he was by an AR pistol he had built. This was back when AR pistols wore rubber cane tips on the receiver extension.
Today the AR pistol market has changed dramatically compared to ten years ago, all thanks to SB Tactical’s Pistol Stabilizing Brace. This seemingly simple device was originally developed to allow disabled and amputee combat veterans the chance to get back out onto the range and hunting fields with a firearm they were familiar with. The Genesis of this effective shooter’s aid was a trip to the range by USMC and US Army veteran Alex Bosco and a friend. Their day at the range turned dark when the range master asked Bosco’s friend, a disabled combat veteran, to stop firing for safety concerns over his difficulty handling and controlling his firearm due to his injuries. Seeing this effect on his friend, Bosco set out to make a device which would not only help his friend, but other disabled combat veterans as well. He went to work on his new project in his garage and received ATF approval in November of 2012. Little did he know at that time what a huge effect his Pistol Stabilizing Brace would have not only helping disabled veterans, but also by spurring the entire industry.
The big explosion of interest occurred on March 21, 2017, with the release of a letter by the BATFE titled, “Reversal of ATF Open Letter on the Redesign of “Stabilizing Braces”. On page 3 of this letter the BATFE states, “To the extent the January 2015 Open Letter implied or has been construed to hold that incidental, sporadic, or situational “use” of an arm-brace (in its original and approved configuration) equipped firearm from a firing position at or near the shoulder was sufficient to constitute “redesign,” such interpretations are incorrect and not consistent with ATF’s interpretation of the statute or the manner in which it has historically been enforced.” This letter reversed their 2015 position that simply shouldering a pistol equipped with a Pistol Stabilizing Brace would turn it into an NFA firearm. In doing, so it opened the floodgates of interest in Pistol Stabilizing Brace equipped pistols.
Today AR-15 pistols are hugely popular not only for recreational shooting, but also hunting and self-protection. There is a myriad of factory gun available to choose from, but if you can’t find exactly what you are looking for, it’s a simple matter to build one yourself. Calibers range from .22 LR to .50 Beowulf and everything in-between. Barrels can be had in a wide variety of lengths and profiles. Just like with AR rifles, almost any combination imaginable is available as an AR pistol.
Why should you consider an AR pistol though? I think that’s the most important question. If you talk to ten different owners of AR pistols about why they own one, you’ll get a variety of answers. Some owners have them for personal defense and appreciate their maneuverability inside the restricted confines of a house or vehicle. Others like how they can legally transport them in their vehicle or on their person under their concealed carry permit. This is especially true compared to an NFA firearm, which requires paperwork to be filed with the BATFE when you are traveling with it out of state. Plus, there is that noticeable step-up in terminal performance, range and penetration a traditional rifle cartridge offers over a pistol cartridge. There are those who like how their short length makes them ideal for using with sound suppressors, which add length and weight to a firearm. Also their short size and light weight makes them easy to sling when a rifle might be too much, and easy to store in a vehicle, plane or boat where space is at a premium. Plus, if they were honest, many would tell you they simply love them for their cool factor and how fun they are on the range. Personally, I like them for all of the above reasons.
Some will ask, “Why not just register a Short Barrel Rifle with the BATFE?” This is one of those questions which have been argued ad nauseum on forums like AR15.com. In my mind there’s a very simple answer. If you want a Short Barrel Rifle, or want to use it solely as a Short Barrel Rifle then pay the $200 tax, do the paperwork, get the stamp and enjoy your SBR. I have quite a few registered SBRs, and love them. Remember though, a pistol equipped with a brace is not a legal way around registering an SBR. If you want a legal pistol which you can use as a pistol, carry and transport with your CCW permit and occasionally legally shoulder, then get a pistol with a brace. No $200 tax stamp is required, you don’t need to fill out any additional paperwork and it’s perfectly legal to own. Brace equipped pistols have their own virtues, which is why I own both AR pistols and SBRs. This doesn’t even touch on the simple fact SBRs are not legal to own in all 50 states.
Say you do decide to purchase or build an AR pistol, what are some things to consider? The first and most obvious is build quality. What do you want to spend? Currently AR and AR part prices are low. I suggest if your budget is low to spend it wisely. A good quality bolt carrier assembly is a must. I also recommend a good aftermarket trigger such as from LaRue or Geissele. Your intended usage will dictate how good of a barrel you require and what you want for a handguard.
When it comes to calibers, there are a myriad to choose from. While 5.56x45mm NATO remains the most popular, there are many others to consider. My suggestion is to carefully evaluate what you are going to use it for, your desired barrel length, and go from there. If you want a very economical plinker or small game gun, consider one of my favorite cartridges, the .22 LR. If you want to team it with your favorite pistol and shoot steel at 25 or 50 yards, consider 9x19mm Parabellum. For hunting I recommend 6.5mm Grendel, 6.8x43mm Rem SPC, 7.62x39mm or any of the big bores, such as .458 SOCOM, which strikes your fancy. If you want to primarily shoot suppressed with subsonic ammunition then 300 BLK or the new 9x39mm Wolf is what you seek. 5.56x45mm NATO? It remains a wonderful general purpose cartridge useful for many things including plinking, hunting (where legal) and self-protection.
My personal favorites are .22 LR, 9x19mm Parabellum, 5.56x45mm, 6.5mm Grendel, 300 BLK, 7.62x39mm and the new 9x39mm Wolf. These all perform certain tasks, have certain attributes and fit my personal needs. .22 LR is quiet as can be suppressed, takes care of pests around the farm and is very economical to shoot. The 9x19mm is great for shooting steel with while I’m practicing with a pistol. The somewhat mundane 5.56x45mm NATO is accurate, economical and useful for a variety of tasks. The 6.5mm Grendel is my do-it-all cartridge. Teamed with a 12.5 inch AR pistol it will deliver 1,000 ft-lbs of energy out to 300 yards making it well suited for hunting. It’s light, quick handling and easy to control for personal protection. Plus its exterior ballistics and accuracy allow it to flatten steel plates at 500 yards. The 300 BLK is fun suppressed and packs a punch with supersonic Barnes Black Tips. That said, 7.62x39mm steel case is much less expensive to shoot.
What about barrel length? This is another question only you can answer. What are you going to use it for and just how short do you need? Barrel length is going to affect a number of things including velocity, terminal performance, exterior ballistics, handling and portability. In some cases it can also affect reliability. Obviously, as you shorten barrel length your velocity goes down. With certain loads/cartridges the effect you see, such as with 9x19mm, subsonic 300 BLK and 9x39mm Wolf, isn’t overly dramatic or troublesome. The slight loss in velocity with any of these when fired from an 8 or 12 inch barrel doesn’t really matter. However, the 4 inch difference between the two can be a lot if you are trying to carry it discretely in a messenger bag.
5.56x45mm NATO is a bit different. Not only can AR’s have reliability issues when you go below 11.5 inches, but velocity loss becomes dramatic. If length isn’t critical, 11.5 inches is an excellent barrel length to consider for this caliber. I’ve seen some 10.5 and 7.5 inch guns which were a bit fussy, but they can usually be remedied with a bit of work. Others run flawlessly. There are some who strongly discourage going below 10.5 inches with a 5.56x45mm AR intended for personal protection. The reasons they give include reliability and terminal performance. I have a couple 7.5 inch ARs in 5.56x45mm which have proven very reliable. However, ammunition selection becomes critical if you’re going to use a barrel this short in this caliber for personal protection. My recommendation, if you choose a 5.56x45mm with a barrel below 10.5 inches for personal protection, choose your ammunition very carefully. Do your research and select a load which still provides reliable expansion and adequate penetration for the low impact velocities you can expect. Remember, its impact velocity not muzzle velocity which is important.
Another thing to consider is what type of brace to use. While SB Tactical led the way, there are a number of alternatives on the market. I have a somewhat unique view of stabilizing braces compared to most of my colleagues in the firearms media. I was crippled in both my shoulders back in 1998, underwent surgery on each and then some 18 months of physical therapy. Two decades latter I have limited range of motion, live with constant pain and am limited on what I can do. So, I approach the use and value of a stabilizing brace with a bit of a different perspective than most.
Source: SB Tactical